southernbeau

Making sense of the non-sensical world of American politics

The Day Mitt Romney Lost The Election

On Monday, September 17th, 2012, Mitt Romney’s electoral prospects spiralled from grim to non-existent.  For this was the day that Romney lost the 2012 presidential election.  A video shot at a private donor fundraising event surfaced surreptitiously in which Romney explains to those present that approximately half of all Americans will not consider voting for him due to their reliance on government handouts.  President Obama, according to Romney, has all of these folks locked in the proverbial bag.  The problems with these ridiculous statements are copious; however, I will focus on the two most egregious.  First, Romney’s assertions are utterly and completely false from a factual standpoint.  Secondly, from a political one, his statements (or misstatements) are as inarticulate and, well, stupid as any that could possibly spill from a presidential candidate’s mouth. 

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” Mitt Romney told the room full of donors.  “All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

While these statements are factually inaccurate (which I will explore below), I can imagine a scenario in which Romney is able to convince himself, and others, that they are true.  Imagine you’re Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee:  For the past year you’ve been unable to grab a clear lead in the polls against someone you view as incompetent and who has been unable to get unemployment below 8 percent or reach a reasonable debt-reduction deal with Congress.  Which would you prefer to believe?  That you’re not good enough, not smart enough and doggone it, people just don’t like you?  Or that the incumbent Democrat has effectively bought off half the country with food stamps and free health care?

What Romney said next, however, is harder to explain.

“These are people who pay no income tax,” he continued, “47 percent of Americans pay no income tax.”

For starters, let’s disregard the completely asinine myth that 47 percent of Americans are tax-evading moochers.  Of the 46 percent (not 47%) of Americans who were expected to pay no federal income tax in 2011, more than 60 percent of them were working and contributing payroll taxes — which means they paid a higher effective tax rate on their income than did Romney — and an additional 20 percent were elderly.  So more than 80 percent were either working or past retirement age.  Allow me to borrow a recent phrase from Bill Clinton, Romney’s contentions don’t pass the “arithmetic” test.  But, of course, why let the facts get in the way of a good story?

In my view, however, the comments winning the dubious award for “most damaging of the day” were as follows: “My job is not to worry about those people.  I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Oh no he didn’t!  Romney gone wild!  When Romney said this, he didn’t just write off half the country behind closed doors.  Far worse, he confirmed the worst suspicions that voters possess about who he is: an entitled rich guy with no understanding of how people who aren’t rich actually live.  Not to mention that he suffers from the chronic and deteriorating condition known as “foot in mouth disease.”  Put the two together and you can hear the grand dame herself, Ann Richards, quipping “Poor Mitt, he can’t help it.  He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”

The hidden paradox here is that having less money means you have to take more responsibility for your life.  You can’t pay people to watch your kids, clean your house, or build your family a car elevator.  You can’t necessarily afford a car at all or a washing machine or a home in a good school district.  That’s what money buys you—goods and services that make your life easier.

That’s what money has bought Romney, too.  He’s a guy who sold his dad’s stock to pay for college, who built an elevator to ensure easier access to his multiple cars and who was able to support his wife’s decision to be a stay-at-home mom.  As we say in the South, “God bless him!”  No one begrudges Romney his wealth.  That’s the dream.

The problem is that he doesn’t seem to realize how difficult it is to focus on college when you’re also working full time, how much planning it takes to reliably commute to work without a car, or the agonizing choices faced by families in which both parents work and a child falls ill.  The working poor haven’t abdicated responsibility for their lives.  They’re drowning in it.

So this begs the question: Why do the poor around the world so often make decisions that befuddle the rich?

The underlying answer, in part, is this: The poor consume an enormous amount of their mental energy just scraping by.  They’re not dumber, lazier or more interested in being dependent upon the government.  Put simply, they’re just cognitively exhausted.

As economist Jed Friedman wrote in an online post for the World Bank, “The repeated trade-offs confronting the poor in daily decision making — i.e. ‘should I purchase a bit more food or a bit more fertilizer?’ — occupy cognitive resources that would instead lay fallow for the wealthy when confronted with the same decision.  The rich can afford both a bit more food and a bit more fertilizer, no decision is necessary.”

The point here isn’t that Romney is unfamiliar with cutting-edge work in cognitive psychology.  It’s that he misses even the intuitive message of this work, the part most of us know without reading any studies—it’s really, really hard (and not much fun) to be poor.  That’s because the poorer you are, the more personal responsibility you have to take.

Romney, evidently, thinks it’s folks like him who’ve really had it hard.  “I have inherited nothing,” the son of a former auto executive and governor told the room full of donors—apparently with a straight face.  “Everything Ann and I have, we earned the old-fashioned way.”  These are either the words of a man blind to his own privilege or who will say anything to get elected.  Either way, it ain’t pretty.

Now let’s turn to the reasons that Romney’s ill-fated diatribe will also prove to be political suicide.  Many of those voters housed within Romney’s 47% are seniors and veterans—two constituencies who have been reliably Republican in recent elections.  The truth is many of these folks have absolutely no intention of voting for President Obama at all.

One major reason for the growth of the federal government in recent years has been that entitlement spending per beneficiary has increased, and so has the number of beneficiaries as baby boomers have retired.  Yet senior citizens — who benefit from federal programs, on average, far more than younger people — have become more Republican over that same period.  Seniors actually voted for John McCain over Obama in 2008 by a slightly higher margin than they did for George W. Bush over John Kerry in 2004.

In the 2010 midterm elections, their Republican margin increased even more, to a whopping 21 points.  And in the latest Rasmussen poll, Romney still leads President Obama among seniors by 19 points.  But in light of Romney’s recent comments stating his belief that 47% of Americans are stigmatized by their dependence upon government, how many seniors will he lose?  My guess is that the hemorrhage among seniors will be significant, particularly in crucial battleground states such as Florida and Ohio.

As the conservative commentator, William Kristol, wrote in the Weekly Standard: “It’s worth recalling that a good chunk of the 47 percent who don’t pay income taxes are Romney supporters — especially, of course, seniors (who might well believe they are entitled to heath care, a position Romney agrees with), as well as many lower-income Americans (including men and women serving in the military) who think conservative policies are better for the country even if they’re not getting a tax cut under the Romney plan.  So Romney seems to have contempt not just for the Democrats who oppose him, but for tens of millions who intend to vote for him.”

Ouch, lambasted by Billy Kristol.  That’s like Obama getting slapped down by Oprah in the New York Times editorial page.

Mitt Romney’s hopes of becoming president have become precipitiously dimmer following each gaffe throughout the summer and into the fall.  However, on Monday, September 17th, his presidential aspirations became officially defunct.   My mom used to tell me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all.  I think my mom would advise Romney that if he didn’t have something reasonable and well thought out to say, say nothing at all.  Of course, if followed, that advice would make for an awfully quiet campaign.  I don’t think I’m going out on a flimsy limb here when I say: Stick a fork in ole Mitt, he’s done.

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September 20, 2012 Posted by | 2012 Presidential Election, 47 percent, Mitt Romney, Obama, Republican Party | , , , | 1 Comment

The Hand Iowans Were Dealt

It’s easy to complain about the Iowa caucuses – easy and completely justifiable. Iowa’s caucus-goers have given us the presidency of Jimmy Carter, lent credibility to Pat Robertson’s political ambitions and created a permanent constituency for ethanol subsidies among Democrats and Republicans alike. As friendly and civic-minded as Iowans may be, there’s no reason why a low-turnout contest in a small, rural state should play such an outsize role in every presidential nominating process.

But in the wake of Tuesday night’s Romney-Santorum photo finish and Ron Paul’s strong third-place showing, it must be said that this time around Iowans have discharged their responsibility impressively. Presented with the weakest presidential field of any major party in a generation, they made the best of a bad situation, punching the three most deserving tickets without handing any of them a decisive victory.  It’s as if Iowa collectively screamed, “this year, all you other states have to help us put lipstick on this pig!”

This isn’t what you’ll hear from the many disappointed conservatives who dislike all of Iowa’s top finishers – Romney because he’s too moderate, boring and phony, Paul because he’s too libertarian and anti-interventionist, and Santorum for all sorts of reasons (his aggrieved personality, his lack of electability, the taint of Bush-era “big government conservatism,” to name three). But on substance and strategy alike, Iowa’s top three deserved their joint quasi-victory, and the losers likewise deserved their plight.

This was particularly true of Rick Perry, who managed to spend $6 million advertising in Iowa without laying a glove on his competition, and whose reputation as a stud campaigner evaporated in the dead air of his atrocious debate performances. But Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich also squandered significant opportunities: Bachmann by never finding a message more compelling than her promise to make Barack Obama a one-term president, and Gingrich by wallowing in the mix of grandiosity and disorganization that his former colleagues in Congress remember all too well.

At one time or another, all three of these also-rans – as well as Herman Cain, lest we forget – seemed well-positioned to win the caucuses. In ultimately rejecting their candidacies, Iowans rejected a cascade of gimmicky tax plans, flagrant pandering (Gingrich’s denunciation of “big city attacks” on ethanol subsidies took the cake), and desperate appeals to identity politics. And they rejected, as well, the attempt to dress up in the mantle of True Conservatism records that were either threadbare or checkered by cronyism and corruption.

It’s not that Romney, Santorum and Paul ran campaigns free of gimmicks or pandering or that they boast untainted conservative records. And do your best here to separate the fact that it is slightly unnerving that Rick Santorum could fare so well in any election – even if it is the Republican caucuses in Iowa!  But at least Santorum and Paul had a message that set them apart from the rest of the field.

For all the talk about how Santorum’s social conservatism was ill-suited to a campaign focused on the economy, the former Pennsylvania senator’s emphasis on social mobility, family breakdown and blue-collar struggles spoke more directly to the challenges facing working Americans than any 9-9-9 fantasy or flat-tax gambit. From the opposite wing of the party, Paul’s libertarian and anti-war campaign scrambled partisan categories in useful and unexpected ways and supplied an alternative to the ritual chest-thumping that sometimes passes for Republican foreign policy debate.

Meanwhile, Romney’s cautious, calculating campaign managed to simultaneously stake out a plausible domestic agenda while ruthlessly exploiting the weaknesses first of Perry and then of Gingrich. Romney took few risks and inspired almost nobody, but his mix of substance and savvy largely confirmed the impression that he would be both the field’s most effective general election candidate and its most plausible president.

In an ideal world, Romney’s coronation would be postponed long enough to have a vigorous argument between Romney, Paul and Santorum (with Jon Huntsman getting in on the action as well, perhaps). They would debate foreign policy, domestic policy and the future of conservatism, with the recent losers and their gimmicks cleared off stage. In the real world, however, some of the defeated will hang around – like that clingy friend that can never take the hint to leave the party – and last night’s results probably just set the stage for the swift Romney victory that’s been coming all along.

But give the people of Iowa credit: They did their best with the hand dealt.

January 6, 2012 Posted by | 2012 Presidential Election, Iowa Caucuses, Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Politics, Republican Party, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Obama’s Resurgence: A Credit To Republicans

During the summer, I wrote extensively about the political battle between President Obama and House Republicans regarding the debt ceiling.  At that time, I predicted that the reluctance to compromise on any level by House Republicans would ultimately benefit Mr. Obama.  Fast forward to the present and it’s deja vu all over again.  The President, the Congress and, more importantly, the country at large are being held hostage by an intransigent and frankly childish House Republican Caucus.

The Senate – by a bipartisan vote of 89-10 – passed a measure to extend the payroll tax cut for another two months to allow negotiations to continue regarding how to pay for a full one year extension of the tax cut.  The House – led by Tea Party ideologues – rejected the bill.  Obviously, this stop gap measure is far from perfect, but without it, taxes will increase for 160 million Americans come January 1st.  The New Year’s Eve hangover will quickly be supplanted by a far more severe, longer lasting headache. 

I submit that these two political events taken together have strengthened President Obama’s position and alternately badly tarnished that of the Republicans.  Republican disarray over the debt ceiling debate and extending a payroll tax cut has quickly become part of a bigger political story that has been unfolding for months: the resurrection of President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats heading into the 2012 elections.

After the debt ceiling debacle of last summer, the conventional wisdom among many political analysts was that Obama would go the way of President Jimmy Carter, that Republicans would lose a few seats in the House but retain control, and that the GOP would surge into power in the Senate. In short, Republicans were looking for a clean sweep. That is now a scenario that looks virtually impossible for Republicans to obtain.  Obama is still vulnerable and could lose, but the most recent CNN poll reveals a remarkable turnaround, especially in the past month.

In a mid-November survey, when asked which candidate they were more likely to support, registered voters gave Mitt Romney a lead of 4 percentage points over Obama, 51% to 47%. The mid-December survey found an 11-point switch; Obama now has a 52%-45% edge over Romney. Against Newt Gingrich, Obama has a 16-point lead, 56%-40%. (Ironically, the one Republican candidate who does as well against Obama as Romney is Rep Ron Paul, trailing by the same 52%-45% margin.)  Obviously, polls are but a fleeting snapshot in time; however, this marked  shift toward Obama is significant.

It is too early to tell how much Democratic prospects for the Senate and House have improved, but senior Republicans are worried. Case in point: the Massachusetts Senate race, where a poll has shown Democratic populist Elizabeth Warren grabbing an unexpected lead over Republican populist Scott Brown. Only a few months ago, the Brown forces were supremely confident. Brown has seen how much danger the payroll tax mess can pose for his re-election and was one of the first to condemn House Republicans for rejecting a Senate compromise that had overwhelming, bipartisan support.

For Brown and other GOP candidates in blue and purple states, the hard-liners in the House are playing directly into a narrative that Democrats have been promoting for months: that Washington is broken because the GOP has become hostage to the tea party. With sentiment toward the tea party now running 49%-33% unfavorable in CNN polling, that is potent stuff.  Republican congressional leaders have so grossly mishandled the payroll tax issue that they have made it easy for the charge to stick.

As The Wall Street Journal said in its scathing editorial, the GOP has also strengthened Obama’s central argument that he is the protector of the middle class and Republicans can only be counted on to protect the rich. No wonder the White House is quietly clammering with excitement at these recent developments, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling on House Republicans to pass the two-month extension.  For the Obama White House, Republican incompetence with respect to the payroll tax issue has truly been the proverbial early Christmas (or holiday) present.

Of course, there is another major force at work that has been lifting Democratic hopes, namely, the quality of the Republican presidential race. With less than two weeks left before the Iowa caucuses, it is apparent that no one has captured the imagination of GOP voters. Essentially, we are back to where we started: a prevailing sense that the field is weak while pundits speculate as to whether a Jeb Bush or Chris Christie will get off the sidelines and enter the race.

All primary campaigns draw candidates toward the extreme end of their parties, but this year, with so many debates, there has been a danger all along for Republicans that moderates and independents would also be driven off. (In the CNN poll, moderates now give Obama a sizable lead against every GOP candidate.)

None of this is to say that Obama and Democrats have become clear favorites for next fall. The fluidity we have seen among Republican primary voters may well show up in the general electorate. As Romney has been arguing, the GOP is likely to close its ranks more fully once a nominee has been crowned. The improving tone of the economy — also a factor for Obama — could well be short-lived: As The New York Times reported Thursday, economists tend to think that growth could slow again next year. And that ominous, dark cloud called the euro zone is still hovering.

Even so, we are witnessing an important change in the political landscape — and it could be lasting. Republicans well remember the mid-1990s when they seized power in Congress and Speaker Newt Gingrich went mano-a-mano with President Bill Clinton. For a while, Gingrich had the upper hand, but Clinton then outmaneuvered him on two governmental shutdowns — and when the momentum turned in Clinton’s favor, he rode it to an easy re-election. No one should doubt that could happen again.  And Republicans would have no one to blame but themselves.

December 22, 2011 Posted by | 2012 Presidential Election, Boehner, Obama, Payroll Tax, Politics, Republican Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Obama In Troubled Waters?

After spending valuable family time vacationing at Martha’s Vineyard and staying ahead of the destructive Irene, Barack Obama returns to Washington, DC this week amidst a campaign for his job that has long begun.  With little over a year until voters decide his fate regarding a second-term, it is high time that Obama join the fight.  Wounded by a stubborn economy, a gyrating stock market and high unemployment, Obama has lost his swagger, that typical lift in his voice.  Not surprisingly, I have read several recent columns that suggest President Obama has virtually no chance of winning re-election.  This assessment may well be accurate unless Obama can clearly and coherently delineate to the American people his impressive successes – contrary to popular belief, there have been many – along with a cogent plan to resuscitate the flailing economy and bring down unemployment.  By doing this, I believe that Obama can all but assure himself of a second-term.

President Obama – and his communications team – should focus on two things with respect to his messaging plan during the upcoming campaign.  First, Obama should portray himself as an executive whose policies, with few exceptions, are supported by a majority of the American public, and are only opposed by Republicans who are beholden to the Tea Party and other fringe elements.  I often read that Obama is a radical and – even more outlandishly – the most liberal president America has ever seen.  For any objective observer, of course, this is ridiculous non-sense.  Many Republican presidents have led a more left-leaning government than has Obama – Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt not the least of which among them.  As president, he’s been a sober, cautious, tongue-shackled realist — a moderate Republican of the pre-Tea Party era.  As such, Obama’s policies have pretty much split the center.

When the Obama Administration reached a debt deal with Congress recently to make a dent in the national deficit, this was only the beginning of a much broader effort because only a small dent in the deficit does this deal make.  Consequently, President Obama has continued to suggest that revenues should be sought by closing tax loopholes coupled with returning the wealthy to Clinton and Reagan-era tax rates.  In fact, he has suggested extending the Bush tax cuts for the middle class.  Tax cuts for wage-earners, but not for millionaires and billionaires, have deep, bipartisan support across the land, sensibly and eloquently articulated by billionaire investor Warren Buffet recently in the New York Times, who pointed to the absurdity of his secretary paying a higher tax rate than he.  If Obama can communicate this issue smartly and deftly, the Republicans running for president who collectively said that they would raise taxes under no circumstances even given $10 in spending cuts to every $1 in revenue will wish they had never made such a rigid pledge to extremism.  Take the fight to them, Mr. President, and make the Republicans defend the politics of gross  economic inequality.

Another fallacy that seems to haunt the Obama Administration is the assertion that the health care bill is a radical one.  Let’s be clear: it is not, and not by a long shot.  It falls far short of being a government-controlled program in the mold of most other civilized nations.  If they so choose, most Americans can keep their trusted private coverage.  The so-called individual mandate — requiring everyone to have at least some coverage — grew out of Republican think tanks, and, of course, was famously institutionalized in Massachusetts by Republican candidate Mitt Romney.  Again, Obama should take this fight directly to the Republicans who so readily criticize him for having the audacity to do something about the dire health care situation.   Approximately 50 million Americans live with no health care at all.  If that’s the status quo that Republicans are willing to accept, then Obama should make them own the injustice, highlighting Republican candidate Rick Perry’s Texas, where one in four citizens are without this basic human right, which the rest of the industrial world enjoys.

President Obama should also speak with clarity about his significant successes in foreign policy which have far surpassed those of President Bush.  The obvious success to which the president can point is his resolute determination to bring Osama bin Laden to justice; and incidentally, his brave decision to authorize the stealth attack which took the life of the world’s most wanted terrorist.  Now comes the news today that on August 22 a drone attack killed al Qaeda’s #2 in command, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman.  Those same drone attacks for which Obama has been so roundly criticized from both the left and the right.  According to the Washington Post, al- Rahman was bin Laden’s channel to the world.  They talked about everything including strategy, personnel, operations and political setbacks.  Whatever thread still held al-Qaeda together passed from bin Laden through to Rahman.  President Obama has arguably made more progress against al-Qaeda in his short time in office than President Bush in his eight years. 

Perhaps President Obama has been most criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike regarding his policy toward Libya.  Liberals were disappointed that Obama was engaging America in yet another military engagement at all.  Republicans chided the president for not utilizing the full force of the American military to dispose of Qaddafi.  Instead, Obama decided to encourage the rebels in their revolutionary efforts and provided unwavering support for NATO intervention in Libya.  But most importantly from a strategic standpoint, Obama took care not to make America the face of the intervention (the bombings), thus the operation garnered broad world support including from other Arab nations.  As a result, the Libyan rebels were made to be the heroes and America wasn’t viewed as the enemy by the world at large.  This was the brilliance of the Obama strategy and the key difference between the Bush Doctrine and that of Obama.  

The Republicans, however, were in no mood to give the president any credit whatsoever for the major success in Libya.  Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina penned a letter last week in which they say the following:  “Americans can be proud of the role our country has played in helping to defeat Qaddafi, but we regret that this success was so long in coming due to the failure of the United States to employ the full weight of our airpower.”  I suppose Senator McCain and Senator Graham have already forgotten how utterly ineffective this same approach proved to be in Iraq and Afghanistan.  An amnesia diagnosis is unlikely; I, on the other hand, detect a really bad case of sour grapes.  Either way, Obama should take this success directly to the American people and allow them to decide the preferable approach in foreign policy.  For me, it’s simple: it’s hard to argue with success.

The second tack for the Obama campaign is a simple one – highlight the lunacy of the opposition.  I will not use this space to once again argue against Republican policies that are, at least on some level, defensible.  I can understand that Republicans want smaller government (even if it means worse government) and lower taxes (even if it means an unequal tax structure).  Of course President Obama will differentiate himself from the Republicans from a policy standpoint on these issues.  But he should also address with the American people the issues by which the Republicans are simply fanatical.  For instance, the leading Republicans who are vying to take Obama’s job continually deny the existence of basic science, scoffing at everything from evolution to the global consensus on climate change.  Will they take on gravity next?   In the same week that scientists announced the discovery of fossils 3.4 billion years old, evidence of explosive growth of early life through evolution, Rick Perry referred to evolution as “a theory that’s out there.”  A theory?  Perhaps he still believes the Earth is flat and is the center of the universe.  Those were theories.

On social issues, most of the Republican candidates want to amend the constitution to take away rights from gays and pregnant women.  What’s more, in his book Rick Perry suggests that we eliminate the seventeenth amendment which grants American citizens the right to directly elect their senators.  And, of course, Perry famously suggested that the state he serves as governor, Texas, secede from the Union.   Furthermore, sensible business leaders are working with the Federal Reserve to help cure what ills a sick global economy.  Yet one leading Republican candidate, Ron Paul, wants to abolish the central bank.  Another, my favorite (as you know by now) Rick Perry, has threatened physical harm of some vague sort against the chairman, Ben Bernanke.  These types of irrational, irresponsible and somewhat strange positions should be used by the Obama campaign to their advantage.  I doubt the majority of the American people are going to give much credence to a candidate that can’t tell fact from fiction.

Undoubtedly, President Obama will face an incredibly difficult fight for his job over the next year and change.  And maybe I’m more optimistic about his chances than most, but I truly believe that the empirical evidence points to substantive successes for the Obama campaign to tout.  Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Clinton attempted to comprehensively reform our dysfunctional health care system.  Obama did it.  President Reagan tried to oust Qaddafi as Libya’s cruel dictator.  Obama did it.  President Bush claimed that he wanted to capture Osama bin Laden “dead or alive.”  Obama did it.  Obama repealed the archaic “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy, appointed two female Supreme Court justices, passed an important financial reform bill, a stimulus bill and compromised with Republicans to reduce the deficit.  Yes, admittedly, he has made mistakes and should focus intensely on job creation.  Yet given the circumstances present when he assumed office, President Obama deserves a second-term and he will get it if he can communicate his successes to the American people while highlighting the rigid ideology and irrationality of his Republican contenders.  The president, in my view, has all the cards.  The question now is how effectively he can play his hand.

August 29, 2011 Posted by | 2012 Presidential Election, Libya, Obama, Politics, Republican Party, Rick Perry | , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Bachmann’s Waterloo Entry

Almost anti-climatically, Michele Bachmann officially joined the race for the Republican nomination for president yesterday in her birthplace of Waterloo, Iowa.  While I understand that Waterloo is Bachmann’s hometown and Iowa is an important state on the road to the nomination, I can’t help but be struck by the irony and symbolism of beginning a political campaign in a place called Waterloo.  Setting aside the unfortunate imagery, however, I would contend that Michele Bachmann is far from her political Waterloo as it relates to her quest for the Republican nomination for president.

Many political observers are prone to make the obvious comparisons between Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin.  The most notable similarity between the two, of course, is that they are both conservative women.  Delving beyond gender, the pair both possess the ability to mobilize and excite the conservative base – both are Tea Party favorites – with their red meat rhetoric and often factually suspect, yet emotionally inspiring diatribes against the Obama Administration in particular and progressive causes more generally.  And, yes, it’s true that neither woman would be confused as an intellectual heavyweight (Palin has a propensity for making up new words, while Bachmann has a unique ability for making inaccurate historical references).  But I believe it would be a grave mistake to write off Mrs. Bachmann as this election’s Palin, and consequently, not take her seriously.

I contend that Michele Bachmann should be taken seriously in the fight for the Republican nomination because she is genuine, principled and uncompromising.  She is unfailingly conservative – taking a moderate position doesn’t seem to be an option regarding any policy discussion – in stark contrast to Jon Huntsman.  She will not waver in the face of shifting political realities as has become habit for Mitt Romney and Mr. Gingrich.  She is tough, steely and willing to seek out a fight unlike the surprisingly feckless Tim Pawlenty, her fellow Minnesotan.  Mrs. Bachmann seems unfazed by new facts or events that no longer support her positions – don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story, seems to be her motto.  Put simply, she does not do nuance; she is what she is each and every day. 

In my view, most of the aforementioned qualities and characteristics possessed by Mrs. Bachmann are not desirable in a political leader.  While I admire her toughness, consistency and ability to remain principled, I think it is extremely important to constantly reassess one’s views on the issues as facts and human events evolve over time.  Furthermore, to be an effective leader one must always consider divergent opinions and be willing to compromise at just the right time to achieve the best possible policy outcome.  To be completely rigid and dogmatic is a sign of serious weakness in the general election.  But with respect to the Republican nomination, I submit that Mrs. Bachmann’s inflexibility and reflexive ideology are significant strengths.  Her biting tongue and creative one-liners will be extremely attractive to the Republican primary electorate.

But this same Republican primary electorate has a difficult decision to make – quite comparable to the decision the Democratic primary electorate had to make in 2004 concerning Howard Dean.  Dean was the principled progressive in that race with his stridently anti-war message and stinging quips directed at then-President Bush.  In the end, however, the Democrats nominated a far less inspiring and, yes, famously nuanced, candidate in John Kerry largely due to the belief that Kerry was more electable than Howard Dean. 

Will the Republicans fall in love with Michele Bachmann to such an extent that they are willing to risk any chance of ultimately defeating President Obama?  Or will they decide to hold their collective noses and nominate Mitt Romney or some other less inspiring figure because they are deemed to be more electable in the general election?  The answers to these questions will play a large role in the success or demise of Mrs. Bachmann’s campaign.

My guess is that the Republican primary electorate will be far more willing than the Democrats were in 2004 to take a chance on the “principled” candidate.  Given the current friction in the Republican Party between the Establishment and the Tea Party, it may prove more difficult to stamp out what might otherwise be characterized as “fringe” candidacies.  With hard-line conservatives attempting to purify the Republican Party and purge it of any moderates whatsoever, Michele Bachmann may actually become the establishment candidate. 

For the Democrats in 2004, the one and only goal was to unseat President Bush.  The conservatives today seem more willing to endure another Barry Goldwater election circa 1964 – lose the general election while winning the soul of the Republican Party.  Given these dynamics, Michele Bachmann could be a major factor in the fight for the Republican nomination.  Indeed, Bachmann’s Waterloo may be somewhere far, far down the road….far away from Waterloo, Iowa.

June 28, 2011 Posted by | 2012 Presidential Election, Michele Bachmann, Politics, Republican Party | , , , | 1 Comment

Huntsman is in, but without a snowball’s chance

Today, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman threw his hat in the muddled, ever-expanding Republican ring by officially declaring his candidacy for the presidency with the Statue of Liberty poignantly in the background.  I have to admit straight away that Huntsman is easily my favorite of the Republican contenders.  My admiration for Huntsman is based on my judgment that he is a thinker – and a reasonable one at that – and is far from an ideologue.  These are characteristics that are hardly shared by the rest of the field (except for maybe Ron Paul) – a field comprised of candidates who tend to be reflexively ideological, allergic to reason and prone to political opportunism.

There are several aspects of Jon Huntsman’s biography that I find interesting, not the least of which is the fact that he dropped out of high school to play in a rock band called Wizard.  Rock on!  My guess is that no other candidate in the field can make that claim.  I respect that out of his seven children two are adopted – one from China and one from India (although Michele Bachmann wears the crown in this category). 

I like that Huntsman lived in China, learned to speak Mandarin and, as a result, inherently understands our increasingly vital relationship with the Chinese.  I applaud Huntsman for accepting President Obama’s invitation to serve in his administration as Ambassador to China.  Unfortunately for Huntsman, while impressive on a resume, holding a job in the Obama Administration is highly unlikely to win him any votes in Republican primaries.

But let’s be completely honest and blunt here: Jon Huntsman has absolutely zero chance of winning the Republican nomination.  In addition to working in the Obama Administration, Huntsman has referred to the president in glowing terms, going so far as to refer to President Obama as a “remarkable leader.”  Strike one!  Furthermore, Huntsman has defied Republican orthodoxy and embraced reasonable analysis once again by proclaiming his belief that climate change is, in fact, a real phenomenon.  Strike two!  And just to drive the final nail in his own coffin, Huntsman has voiced his support in the past for civil unions granting equal rights to gay and lesbian couples, though without invoking the word marriage.  Strike three!  The fatal trifecta in any Republican primary election. 

Huntsman does possess a traditional Republican record on taxes and abortion and has come out in support of the Paul Ryan budget.  As governor of Utah, he cut taxes and was stridently pro-life.  But this will not be enough to undo the irreparable damage caused by his more moderate, reasonable positions.  At today’s announcement on the banks of the Hudson River, Huntsman said, “But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better president, not who’s the better American.”  It is extremely refreshing to have a candidate in the Republican field who actually respects the president and intends to run a civil, issues-based campaign instead of questioning the president’s American credentials at every turn.

While he will not win the Republican nomination, Huntsman will provide an element of independence, civility and, yes, reason that is sorely lacking amongst the current Republican candidates for president.  I wish him well in his ill-fated, yet honorable decision to challenge the Republican dogma of divisiveness and unbridled anti-Obamaism.  Good luck, Mr. Huntsman – considering your final judge and jury will be the Republican primary electorate – you’re gonna need it!  But you can always count me as a fan….now if I could only vote in the Republican primary.

June 21, 2011 Posted by | 2012 Presidential Election, Jon Huntsman, Politics, Republican Party | , , , | 2 Comments